|buffalo in the fifties
My father was a bartender. The bar was the Alibi Room
on Chippewa St in Buffalo. Before that he worked at a
place called the Shamrock Grill on Michigan Ave.
Michigan Ave was the Harlem of Buffalo. Why would a
bar in the colored section of town—owned by a Jew-—be
called the Shamrock Grill? I dont know.
The Shamrock was not a class place. It was the opposite
of a class place--a toilet. It catered--if that is the word—
to a dismal collection of losers—-mostly white, mostly
welfare or pension types, disability types--on the ropes
types. It was OK with my father who qualified a job by
how much he could steal. The Shamrock was like
shooting fish in a barrel. His preferred method was to get
them sufficiently hammered and start shortchanging--a
ten would receive change for a 5, a 20 for a ten, etc.
They frequently passed out at the bar and then he just
took the money clean--no change required. He had a pair
of tweezers for precision work.
That was my father.
The classic story about the Shamrock involved a local
named Ricky--a homosexual--of the flaming type. He
occasionally wore drag. He was black--a Negro. He
adored my father. He called him Mr. Phil. He was
constantly pestering him to give him some work—-
tending bar. He insisted this was a smart business move.
The rap went like this: He said: Mr. Phil--lets face it. The
place is a loser. Its a toilet. These people are chumps--
welfare types. What you need are some sporting types--
people with a little bread who dont mind spending it. Put
me behind the bar and in a week you wont recognize the
place. Its a gold mine, etc, etc
My father listened to this pitch and was sympathetic.
Possibly Ricky had a point--there was some business to
be done here. Ricky was a dude. He knew people--
everyone. And Everyone liked him. He was a sweet
guy--or girl—who didnt have a mean bone in his body.
Also: he was entertaining—a priceless asset in a
But there was a problem—Art Raisen. Art was the
owner. Art didnt like spades. He wasnt a racist; he just
didnt like spades.
This happened next. Art took a trip. He went to Florida
for three weeks. My father took this opportunity to install
Ricky behind the bar--to test this thesis of his—the
sporting thesis. He was curious about this one.
Three weeks later Art Raisen returns form Florida. He
pays a visit to his bar. He walks in and is greeted by a
roomful of spades who have the place in an uproar--they
are drinking and dancing and carrying on in a delirious
spade way and the jukebox is going full blast shredding
the air with some of the preferred rhythm and blues
favorites of that time: Too Much Woman, Gimme Them
Ribs, Jesus Said No, etc.
There behind the bar is my dad and Ricky--wearing
slacks and a halter.
Art gestures for my father to join him for a few words.
My father comes over.
Art says: whats going on?
My dad: the kid asked for a job and I gave it to him and
this is the result. I have here the receipts for last week.
Before Art left for Florida the Shamrock averaged 800 a
week. Now it was averaging 2300 a week.
Art said: hes hired
That is a true story.
He worked at the shamrock for 10 years. The place was
sold and he took a job at the Alibi—on Chippewa St.
Chippewa was a stretch of six blocks featuring a mix of
sleaze, upscale and a little everything else in between.
There was a strip joint, Decos the junkie coffee shop, the
used girlie magazine store, a few ratty bars, etc. There
was a good Italian restaurant, Leonardos, nate Seebergs
for mens fashion, and for your bookmaking fix, operating
out of an office over Leonardos, Joe Genoa, nephew of
Joe DeCarlo, hit man for Steve Maggadino, the Godfather
of Western New York.
And there was the Alibi-—a class bar. The class bars were
the Alibi, The Chez Ami on Delaware (“Home of the
Revolving Bar”), and Olivers on the north side.
What is a class bar? A class bar is a place where you can
arrange to meet a class hooker. That is the definition.
The year was 1958. in 1958 we had Eisenhower in the
White House and Frank Sinatra in Hollywood. In Buffalo
we took our cue from Sinatra. Sinatra had a taste for
hookers and that is the other definition of a class bar--a
place Sinatra would visit if he were in town.
At the Alibi there was a core of regulars—the Ballroom
Boys. The origin of this name will never be known. My
dad told me once but I have forgotten. There was Sid
Guttman-—the worlds strongest Jew--Ben Polkowitz
(Pokey), Manny the mover Isenberg, and the Jeep-—the
gin rummy champ of Buffalo.
Why was the Jeep called the Jeep--because he owned
one or looked like one? Neither. He was called the Jeep
because that was the perfect name for him. The
Guinness book of records doesnt have a category for
most games of gin rummy played in a lifetime but you
can take it from me the holder of this title is The Jeep.
There was Elmer Covelli–-mens clothing salesman—-the
Nate Seeberg connection. In those days you wore a suit.
Its possible to be a sharp dresser wearing casual threads
but there is nothing like a fine suit, bought off the rack
at Seebergs and altered to fit. The materials were wool,
sharkskin, gabardine and another fabric that enjoyed
popularity at this time called ________--a blend of wool
and nylon, or maybe rayon, or maybe all three and
there must have been a little radium mixed in
somewhere because suits made from _______gave off
this disturbing glow. You bought the suit, got fitted for
shirts at Lafayette Custom Shirts followed by a shine
next door at the newsstand and you were ready for
action—at The Alibi.
There was another dude--Teddy Shavers—the subject of
this story. Teddy didn’t have a nickname but if he did it
would have made reference to his head. He was bald as
a monkey. But as my mother was fond of telling him:
you look better bald. This was true. It was true because
no one could remember him with hair. He had been this
At the alibi there was music--the Dave Horn trio. Dave
and Teddy were tight. They played golf together and
participated in orgies at Teddys apartment. Dave was
married and had been for years--and he had been
participating in orgies for years. Sid Guttman was the
worlds strongest Jew and Dave was the worlds most
unfaithful human being. He was Italian. He had the pussy
I have chosen to speak of these men for a reason—
because they represent a particular type that flourished
in Buffalo at this time—the sporting type. They had three
interests: drinking, gambling, women. It was more the
gambling—-action. Mario Puzo--who wrote The
Godfather--had a few things to say on the subject. He
spoke from experience. He made $600,000 writing the
script of Godfather 2 and he took the $600,000 to Las
Vegas and blew it playing craps at the Sahara hotel. It
took 6 months to write the script and one day to blow the
money playing craps. He had to go back to Hollywood
and write another script. But he describes this type—the
degenerate gambler type. My point is this: Mario Puzo
would have fit right in among the ballroom boys at the
And need I make another point—that these things—
gambling and women—in no way complement each
other? From time to time a marriage occurred and there
would be a honeymoon and the day following the
honeymoon the lovebirds would be sitting around the apt
and at some point the groom would notify the bride of his
intention to leave the house by the way he was putting
his hat on and walking to the door, causing the bride to
query him on this one and the racetrack-—Erie Downs--
would be mentioned.
He didn’t add: And after the track I may fall by the Alibi
for a taste. There followed a long conversation to thrash
it out. Sometimes it didnt get thrashed out.
I met Teddy playing golf. I was with my father. The
course was Grover Cleveland. He was a single and we
invited him to join us. He was a novice--struggling to
break 90. I was a 4 handicap. Nothing is worse than for a
good golfer to play a round of golf with a hacker.
The first hole at Grover is a short par four—340 yards. I
remember it well. You tend to remember a golf course
you have played 300 times. Its a moderate dogleg right
with out of bounds on the left and a tree protecting the
left half of the green that is bunkered in front. You must
fade the drive to work the dogleg and remove the tree
from play. That is the shot. This leaves you with a short
wedge to the green—a routine shot. you stick the wedge
nine feet from the pin and nail the putt for the bird. That’
s how the hole is played. That’s how I played it. Teddy
took a 7—actually a nine. He had this little snap hook he
was working on that he ripped over the fence on the left
side into the backyard of a house and destroyed
someones rose bush.
My dad said: take another. My Dad was very generous in
the mulligan (free shot) dept-—esp when it applied to
himself. Teddy re-tees, tries another drive, a little
better, a pop-up but in the fairway. From there he
chunks a 5 iron, throwing up a plate size divot, a nice
divot, but behind the ball, not in front, and the ball
travels 30 yards. Out comes the wedge, here comes a
shank from the wedge—the most hideous shot in golf—
that flies straight right off the hozzle of the club at a 90
angle to the line of flight. He tries another wedge, finds
the green and two putts for the 7 (the 9).
That was the first hole. Two is a nice hole, another par
four but longer--420 yards with a fairway that funnels
down into a narrow approach to the green and there is
more out of bounds on the left-—more yards with rose
bushes. On the right is a long fairway bunker. Teddy
pushes one off the tee into the bunker, thrashes around
in the trap for a few shots, finds the fairway and hits a
terrific seven iron that flies over the green. He chips up
and down, makes a nice putt. He was a good putter. This
saved him. You can teach the other shots but putting is
more instinctive—a feeling for the pace of the shot—-like
Bocce. For myself I hit a good drive down the middle, a
four iron to the green and two putt for the par.
Three is a par three—on the short side--140 yards to a
slightly elevated green bunkered left and right. Choke up
on a seven iron and hit a little punch shot with good
backspin. Thats the shot. The opposite of this shot is
Teddys shot, the thin or “skulled” shot—-a miserable
shot—that fails to get airborne and sails along a few feet
off the ground for a hundred yards, drops to the ground
and takes a few bounces into the trap.
In other words, in three holes he has hit for the cycle—
the snap-hook, the push-slice, the pop-up drive, the
shank, the fat shot, the thin shot.
We played along. Where did he get that swing? The golf
swing is an inside-to-inside situation. The club is taken
back on the inside of the intended line of flight, the
downswing retraces this same path as it returns to the
impact zone to strike through the ball and continues back
to the inside to the golfers left as he follows through.
That’s the swing. You deviate from this and thats where
the problems begin. Teddy had the opposite of the inside-
to-inside. He had the outside-to-inside, going back
outside to return the same way and the result was this
evil downward spinning out motion of the hips and
shoulders with the arms whipping across and chopping at
the ball like he was trying to beat a small animal to
We played along. He had a few good holes. At one point I
stood him up on the tee and made a few adjustments by
way of grip, stance, address. The grip and how you
address the ball is 50% of it.
We finished the round. I shot a 76, Teddy had a 93, my
father an 83—plus or minus. You never knew with him.
He played golf the way he tended bar. You had to keep
your eye on him at all times.
Into the clubhouse for a few beers. We toted up the
scores and replayed a few holes, talked some golf talk.
He was a funny guy, congenial and I took to him at
once. You are much better off with a lousy golfer but a
good companion anytime. The secret to golf—as in other
things—is attitude. You must concentrate on the shot at
hand. The last hole is history and there is nothing to be
done but learn something from it.
Teddy said: we must do this again.
A friendship was born.
Teddy was my mentor. He was 35. I was 20—a student
at the University. There is an expression: wet behind the
ears. I was wet behind the ears. This is where the
mentor comes in--a wise person who assumes the role of
counselor to the younger person under his wing and
seeks to guide or advise in a judicious way.
This wasnt Teddy. Teddy was a member in good standing
of the Ballroom Boys—a collection of names that rarely
surfaced during a conversation on the subject of role
models. With Teddy the direction you were guided in
was the Peace Bridge and over the Niagara River into
Canada to pay a visit to Erie Downs—the track.
But-—there were laffs. Laffs are important.
We played a lot of golf. There is no fanatic like the golf
fanatic and there was no golf fanatic like Teddy Shavers.
He took the game up late and there were a lot of
unplayed rounds to make up for.
The lineup was me and Teddy and whoever else decided
to tag along—my father, Dave Horn, Elmer Covelli.
Dave appeared on a hit or miss basis. He worked nights,
signed off around two and had a taste at the bar to
unwind and then followed home some chippie for a
quickie and he waltzed through the door of his house
circa 5am in a semi-conscious state, a disheveled
state, a lipstick covered state. He was married to a
terrific girl, had two kids and so forth but there was
nothing to be done. He had the pussy gene.
On the course there was another problem. Dave weighed
130 pounds. He was a stick. He took one out of his bag
and you couldn’t tell which was which. The lack of power
was frustrating. The tee shot is the home run of golf.
Nothing is more satisfying than to reach for the driver
and crush one 240 yards down the middle, with a bit of
draw—overspin-—and the ball hits the ground and runs
for another 20 yards.
Dave wound up and fired away and took this tremendous
whack at the ball, made good contact, hit a nice shot, the
shot went 190 yards.
He said: I dont get it. Chi Rodriguez weighs 135 lbs. and
hits the ball 270 yards.
This was true. Chi Chi hit the long ball. Dave hit the short
ball. Its also true that Chi Chi on his downswing came
into the ball delivering a clubhead speed of 110 mph.
Dave generated a clubhead speed of 65 mph. He suffered
from a common hacker problem--the decelerating
There are two parts to the golf swing—the backswing and
the downswing. The third part is the little pause at the
top of the swing in between the two. The backswing
stops, there is the little pause, the downswing begins.
Dave took a long pause. The long pause generates
something called the “reverse pivot”-—a physics type
situation that dumps all the weight on the right side at
the moment of impact, instead of driving forward and
hitting hard into the left side—the classic pose you see in
all the golf books. That’s the deceleration of the
downswing. Also: you must get your ass into the ball.
That was another problem. Dave didn’t have an ass. He
There are two parts to this story. Playing golf with Teddy
Shavers is one part and the other part occurs at a place
called the Campus Lounge--a bar on the west side. I
grew up on the west side. The neighborhood was Italian--
make that Sicilian. There is a difference. Italians are
white people. It was a neighborhood of narrow streets
and narrow houses with a bit of yard in back and
bakeries and pastry shops and meat markets and fish
market and chicken markets and sausage markets.
There was a bowling alley and a pool hall and the
Marlowe theater where mothers sent their kids on
Saturday to watch 5 hours of movies, cartoons, short
subjects, the news and a serial.
The Campus was called the Campus because two blocks
away was Buffalo State Teachers College. But the name
was deceptive. The students from Buff State didnt go to
the Campus. They went to Coles, next door to the
Campus, featuring Guiness Stout posters, cozy booths,
dart boards and the exposed beam ceiling framing detail,
etc, The English pub treatment, much better suited to
their collegiate preppy instincts.
A better name for the Campus would have been Greasers
Paradise. The Campus catered to guys like Carl
Calamare who passed his high school years over at
Niagara Billiards working on his nine ball game. He
worked on it with me. Pool is an indoor version of golf.
Its played with a ball struck by a stick aimed at a hole.
Position is important--the next shot. There is a mental
side to the game. Pool is obsessive. An obsession is
something that keeps you awake at night. Pool keeps you
awake at night.
Carl managed to graduate and joined the army--a good
place for him. He got discharged and asked me if
attending UB--The University of Buffalo--also known as
Jew B--was an advisable move--higher education.
I said: they dont offer a major in bullshit.
Then I said: and you are better off.
He took my advice. He got a job with Smith corona
selling typewriters. Later he joined Prudential--life
insurance. The rest is history.
At the campus it was me and Carl and a guy named Jack
D’Amico I will get to shortly and there were a few Jews
thrown in to add to the mix.
Morty was a regular. A greaseball isnt exclusive to a
particular race but the Italians are generally conceded to
have the edge. Morty was a Jewish greaseball. He was
also a cripple. He was a greaseball Jewish cripple--a full
He was crippled from birth--some palsy condition that
messed up his left side leaving him with a bent arm and
a limp, more of a shuffle with the left foot dragging along
behind on the ground. He had a speech impediment--the
Daffy Duck syndrome—the tongue bladdering the air like
the deflating action of a balloon leaving covered with spit
the face of the person on the other side of the
That was Morty. But he was funny, smart and had a
good heart. He would give you the shirt off his back. Carl
and Jack D’Amico were the same. These are friendships,
the kind that endure and are made in a city like Buffalo.
You can leave the city and return 10 or 20 years later
and re-unite with these people and the conversation
picks up right where it left off. You don’t miss a beat.
Nothing has changed.
Morty was the first guy on the West Side to smoke weed.
One night I was in the campus with a girl--Marie
Mangione. Marie was in love with me. She wouldnt fuck
me. She typed my English papers. She wanted to get
married. We could fuck after we got married--maybe.
This was the fifties--in Buffalo. Getting laid was a
problem. It was still possible at this time for a girl to
insist on this concept--the virginity concept--without
being considered hopelessly square or provincial--or
poisoned by Catholicism. Later, when the 50’s became
the 60’s this changed. The virginity concept got cuffed
around a bit. In the TV business its called losing share. It
wasnt laughable--more like quaint.
There I am in the Campus at the bar with Marie and in
He said: come outside: I wanna show you something.
We went outside. There was an alley in back.
He said: I have something for you. He held out his hand.
There was a cigarette. But it was a funny looking
cigarette—pinched at both ends--the torpedo shape.
He said: its marijuana--grass.
I had never seen a joint. This was Buffalo. Buffalo wasnt
cutting edge. Buffalo was semi-cutting edge.
He said: you wanna get high?
I said: I am high. Ive been drinking for 3 hours.
He lit up and took a hit and passed the joint over. I took
a hit and he explained the correct dope smoking
technique—suck in deep and hold it, etc.
He said: its great for sex. You can screw like a horse.
I said: I am with Marie. I have been trying to fuck her for
2 years. This stuff is useless to me.
I will sell you an ounce for $5.00. Normally its $10.00.
There remained the problem of making a cigarette—
rolling a joint. I didnt roll joints. I bought my cigarettes
pre-rolled--20 at a time--the pack concept.
Ill make a long story short: I bought an ounce--a lid. I
never smoked it. I still had it three years later when I
moved to New York. But then, when I was in New York,
in my apt one night with a girl, and we were screwing on
the couch, and she had a joint and we smoked it, it was
true: I had a hardon that refused to go down. It was
amazing. I thought of Morty.
That was the Campus. We drank and played Sinatra on
the jukebox and we talked. We talked, talked, talked.
What did we talk about? I dont recall. Nothing worth
repeating. We talked about Sinatra.
The Campus could have been called Greasers Paradise
and it could also have been called Franks Place. It was
the shrine concept. There was a jukebox with 50 records,
40 by Sinatra, pictures on the wall, movie posters,
framed newspaper clippings reporting photographer
punchouts, etc. It was 1958. Sinatra was on top--way on
top. Today as I write--1992—people like Madonna are on
top. Madonna is huge. But Sinatra—Frank—-was
different. The fame was part of it but there was
something else as well. There was a style here, of dress,
behavior, the way the money was spent. Also: he was
Italian. We were Italian. We were 20, had our lives to
live, and on this one we were in the dark—totally. But
now we knew. We wanted to live like Sinatra.
Carl told me a good Sinatra story. It involved Ava
Gardner—-before he married her. She was shooting a
movie in Spain and there were rumors of involvement
with a bullfighter.
Sinatra flies over to inform himself in person about this
one and checks into a hotel, a suite adjoining Gardners.
He goes over that night to straighten this thing out, there
is a huge fight, he storms back to his suite, retrieves a
gun and fires a shot out the window.
He waits for her to come rushing in in an hysterical state.
She fails to appear. There is nothing. Sinatra returns to
her suite and raps on the door. She opens the door and
says: hi Frank.
Frank: Didn’t you hear that shot?
Ava: I heard the shot
And you did nothing? I could have been dead!
If you were dead you were dead. What could I
do about it?
That was the story.
I said to Carl: Avas a class broad.
That was the Campus—-Franks place. If Sinatra had
decided to play Buffalo and pay a call on the boys at the
Campus it would have been a cosmic event. The place
would have gone up in a puff of smoke--vaporized. It
cannot be explained. You had to be there. We were
Sinatra junkies and the Campus was where we went to
get our fix.
And that was the routine: golf with Teddy Shavers, pool
with Carl Calamare and drinking at the Campus--and
there was one more: swimming with Jack D’Amico.
Jack also attended UB. He was an English major. I was
an English major. But here the resemblance ended. Jack
had grades. He was a brilliant dude--Phi Beta Kappa. He
was a year ahead of me, attending grad school. We
shared an interest in writing and there were many long
conversations discussing the literary hotshots of that
time--Mailer, Bellow, Styron, James Jones.
James Jones wrote From Here to Eternity—a book read
when I was 13 and may have been the book to plant the
seed in my head to be a writer.
There was an interesting story behind this book. Jones
grew up in a small town—Robinson Illinois. He was a
small town boy who wanted to be a big town boy. He
wanted to be a writer—and a particular kind of writer. He
wanted to be a Thomas Wolfe kind of writer. Wolfe—-
another small town type-—had a taste for the 900 page
novel—-less of a problem for the reader in those days
before the invention of TV and the VCR—-and
suffered from a an acute form of adjectivitis. It was Mark
Twain who said of the adjective: when in doubt—-throw it
out. Wolfe said: the adjective be damned.
But they were good books—written from the heart. They
had power. I read them myself—Look Homeward Angel,
The Web and the Rock, Of Time and the City. Those were
my college years when I could hole up in my room and
knock off a 900 page novel in three days.
Jones was self taught as a writer. He never attended
college. War broke out and he was drafted and , four
years later, returned to Robinson. He started work on a
book—Eternity. There are three problem with writing:
1) the writing itself.
2) getting published
3) selling books
One is by far the easiest.
He banged on the book and at some point sent a few
chapters to an editor at Scribners named Maxwell
Perkins. Maxwell Perkins was the editor of Thomas
Wolfe—also Hemingway--and a legendary figure in the
publishing world. Jones had never met Perkins, had
never corresponded with Perkins, had never talked
to Perkins on the phone. He did not exist for Perkins. But
he sent the manuscript to Perkins because in his
enfeebled brain he, James Jones, was the next Thomas
What are the odds of an unsolicited manuscript submitted
by some mental case from a town called Robinson Ill
working its way out of the slushpile at the office of a
major New York publishing house like Scribners and
landing on the desk of a man like Max Perkins who
actually proceeds to start reading this thing, and to like
what he is reading, and to like it well enough to mail off a
letter to the mental case encouraging him to continue
work on the book?
The odds are high—astronomical
But there you have it. He writes Jones a letter and if
Jones had one quality—-beside a similar taste for the use
of the multiple adjective acquired from Thomas Wolfe-—
it was a capacity for work.
Perkins was aging and in poor health and at some point,
halfway thru the book, Jones was turned over to another
The writer/ editor relationship is critical and fragile.
Writers are difficult people. They are loners, they are
neurotic, they are obsessive. They are a pain in the ass.
In addition, many of them lack talent.
Jones had the talent but was otherwise a splendid
example of the breed—a stubborn cuss who considered
the words golden and getting one of these types to delete
a single word, let along a paragraph—or chapter—is like
pulling teeth. Its an endless struggle—exhausting. But
Mitchell had a gift for nursing these people along. He
was a class act—a gent. He was kindly, forgiving,
patient. He was the man for this job.
The book got finished—-a hell of a book-—flawed in ways
and badly overwritten in places—but it had the one thing
that no other thing can substitute for-—that irresistible
thing that grabs the reader and keeps him glued to the
page. It had that power. You started this book—all
300,000 words—and once started you finished it. That’s
And the timing was right. The war was still fresh in
everyones mind and the publisher were desperate to get
their hooks into the writer of the great novel of World
War 2—the blockbuster they knew was out there and
being written at that very moment.
That book was From Here to Eternity
There is a famous picture of Jones—in front of Scribners
Bookstore—on Fifth Ave in New York, the mental case
from Robinson Ill, self taught, a loner from out of
nowhere, the reader of Thomas Wolfe, and behind him,
filling up the display window of Scribners, stacks upon
stacks of copies of From Here to Eternity.
He was 31.
This is called happiness.
Back to jack. Jack was a high school swimming champ.
He swam the Niagara river. I was with him. He swam it
and I drove across the Peace bridge in the car to Fort
Erie and picked him up on the other side, Its a ballsy
stunt. The current is treacherous. It’s a mile across and
closer to two when—and if—you arrive. There are speed
boats and water skiers and fishing boats with trolling
fisherman and they are all hammered from drinking and
the last thing to cross their mind is being on lookout for
some mental case trying to swim the river.
Also: the falls--Niagara Falls. There they are 12 miles
downstream. You could get a cramp and be swept
under by the current and over the falls and take a
header onto the rocks--followed by the whirlpool, a
hazard of no consequence since you are already dead.
I crossed the bridge in the car looking down at the river
and there he was, this bobbing chunk of flesh in his
Jantzens stroking steadily towards the opposite shore.
On the other side is Fort Erie, a collection of souvenir
shops, fish and chips stands, the Fort Erie Motel featuring
“siesta” rates and a sliver of beach. he wouldn’t come
ashore at the beach. The current would sweep him
downriver. There is a steerage road that parallels the
river and services some residential beach front
property-—some beautiful homes. I parked on the road
and waited for him to appear—hoping he would appear—
a greaser in a pair of Jantzens with his balls hanging out--
an inviting snack for someones Rottweiler.
There he was scrambling over a hedge. He walked up the
road. He had this manic grin. He was pumped.
He said: a piece of cake!
It was Disraeli who said: there is no happiness without
I graduated. Now what. I could get a job. What kind of
job. I was an English major. You can do everything and
nothing. I did nothing. I thought of applying to grad
school but 4 years of hour upon hour in the library spent
banging on unspeakable novels by the likes of George
Eliot, Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, etc had induced a
spectacular case of literary burnout.
I still wanted to write. It never occurred to me when I
decided to be a writer that being a writer and making a
living were two different things. Now it occurred to me.
I farted around—drinking at the Campus. One night I ran
into Bob Battaglia. Bob was a neighborhood guy from the
west side. He went to Ohio State and majored in
business. He learned about money while I read books by
George Eliot. Now he was in New York—working for
He came home from time to time. He said: you have to
move to New York. Its not happening in Buffalo. Its
happening in New York. If you cant get laid in New York
youre a mental case.
Bob told me a good story. There was a girl in Buffalo—
Francine. She was a high school cheerleader type. Bob
was a high school cheerleader type. That's how they
met—cheerleading. He had been trying to bang her for
years. But it was no dice.
He left high school and went to college and went to New
York. In Buffalo he couldnt get laid and in New York he
had three girlfriends. His sex problems were solved. One
day he is walking down the street and coming in the
other direction is Francine. They go for coffee. They catch
up on each other. She got married and had a kid and
now is divorced. She is living in New York. The
conversation proceeds and as it does it becomes
apparent she wants to get together. She is lonely. A
single mother in new York--a difficult situation Now the
shoe is on the other foot. Bob has all this action--and
none of them are divorced with children.
I said: what happened?
He said: Im still considering it
Meanwhile I lived at home. Home was OK. It was rent
free, meals were included, also laundry service. My
father was never around and I ignored my mother unless
I needed money.
I was an only child. This was the good part. The bad part
occurs later when you get married and expect this kind of
attitude to continue.
I farted around. I did this and that. I worked for a
newspaper-—entertainment type throwaway called The
Nightowl. You found it on your doorstep in the morning or
at the laundromat, the lobby of the neighborhood movie
I wrote restaurant reviews. Not a bad job. I liked the
job. I met some characters—-chefs and owners-—and
ate some amazing meals. There was one problem: no
salary. I got paid in the free meals sprung for by the
restaurant for which I was writing the review
that was the job--an English major type job.
There are two kinds of jobs. There is the English major
kind--writing restaurant reviews for a throwaway paper
and the other is a real job like Bob Battaglia had with
Union Carbide--a real job that pays a salary and benefits
and there is some kind of pension or stock option
program in place and you put it all together and it spells
a word called "future"., etc.
|I farted around. I played golf, I shot pool, I killed an
amazing amount of time at the Campus Lounge--trying
to get laid. Getting laid was a problem. If I got laid
once for every 20 hours I spent at the Campus the pussy
would be coming out my ears. I had seduced one or two
of the neighborhood girls who I could generally prevail
upon to give me some action when I became desperate--
most of the time.
There was Wilma--who had a bad neck—from a car
crash. It was embarrassing. But-—pussy. What could I
There was Marie who wouldn’t fuck me but typed my
And there was Louise. I met Louise at a basketball
game. I was 15. I tried to fuck her but it was no dice. I
tried a year later--at 16. Same thing--no dice. I tried at
17, 18, 19. No dice, no dice, no dice,
One night I took her to the drive-in. The movie was
Some Came Running based on the novel by James
Jones, the book after he wrote From Here To Eternity.
Here he made his mistake--to write a big book--another
Eternity. It cannot be done. The critics are waiting--to
hammer you. Why? because the first book was too
successful. You are too happy-—not to mention rich. You
must be made less happy--returned to reality. And this
occurred. He got murdered. It was brutal. And there
was nothing to be done. He could have written the Bible
and the results would have been the same. He should
have written a small book--something light and frivolous
to catch them off guard--a childrens story or something
along those lines. This would have foiled them. But--we
live and learn.
Meanwhile there I was at the drive in with Louise. The
movie wasnt bad. Sinatra was in it. It was Sinatra, Dean
Martin, Shirley McClaine and a woman named Martha
Hyer. Martha Hyer plays an English professor Sinatra is
in love with. Sinatra is a writer. She loves his work but
not him. She wont bang him. She wont bang anybody.
She is a virgin at age 32. Its a long story. Too much
literature has made her goofy. She is going in circles--a
hopeless neurotic. Sinatra does his best but, desperate
to get laid, involves himself with Shirley McClaine who
never read a book in her life but loves to fuck.
Thats the story. This was a theme I could identify with--
a writer who cant get laid.
But now something happens--I get laid. Me and Louise
are thrashing in the front seat of the car which could be
done in those days before the invention of the bucket
seat and the giant counsel unit that went between the
bucket seats and a gearshift sticking up to whack you in
the balls during a crossover.
We are thrashing in the front seat and I have my finger
up her pussy and now she wriggles out of her panties
and out comes my dick and she jumps me and
suddenly--5 years later--I am in. It was a miracle.
I did some writing. What do you write about at age 22?
At age 23 three Philip Roth wrote Goodbye Columbus
and won a National Book Award and he was on his way.
But that is the exception--in my view. In my view
writing occurs later in life. You can be a musician or a
painter at an early age and produce good work--even
great work. But with writing--no. Writing is different.
Good writing derives from experience of life and at 22
you are still a little wet behind the ears. You need to get
out there and get cuffed around a bit--have your heart
broken by a women, get fired from a few jobs, develop
some hideous disease. These are the things that add
flavor to the work.
One night I got a call from Teddy Shavers. I hadnt seen
him for a while. It was January, 5 above zero—
farenheit--with a wind chill factor of ten below and we
were suffering the usual off season golf withdrawal
symptoms. There was talk of driving down to Pinehurst
for a week to play the north course--a championship
He said: you wanna hear the new Lenny Bruce album?
I said: whos Lenny Bruce?
There was a pause and I could picture him at the other
end of the line with his eyeballs disappearing into the
backs of the sockets.
He said: hes a comedian. Buts its a new kind of comedy.
Come over and I will explain the whole thing
Teddy lived on Sheridan drive. Sheridan drive is in
Williamsville--the burbs. The first dreaded symptoms of
a phenomenon tagged by the sociologists as “white
flight” were beginning to occur. A new word--the mall--
was added to the vocabulary of commerce. Ten years
later downtown Buffalo—a quadrant with the Main
St/Chippewa axis operating at the center—the movie
theatres, restaurants, clubs, stores, pool halls, strip
joints—and the Alibi Room, Leonardos, Nate Seebergs—
and Joe Genoas bookie operation--were gone. It was
the heart of the city—now in failure. And it stayed in
failure. It dropped dead.
But Sheridan was convenient--a major traffic artery that
fed into the Niagara Expressway that took you to the
Peace Bridge you crossed into Canada and 5 minutes
later you arrived at Erie Downs--the track
An apt reflects the tastes and character of the person
who inhabits the space. Teddy was neat--anal. My
mother was anal. I took after my father. A girl once said
to me: you arent a slob Jack; youre just dirty.
Teddy was a Jew. The design gene is Italian. Later,
when I worked in New York in the ad biz and hooked up
with the guinea art directors—a guy named Gene
Calogero and another one--Ralph Ammirati—I learned
about the Bauhaus look, the 30’s modern look, the 40’s
neo-Italian look, a few other looks.
Teddys pad featured the horseplayer look. The word
non-descript means nothing to describe. That was the
pad. He had what he needed—a few chairs, sofa, floor
lamp. Plus he was never there. He used the place to
sleep and have orgies with Dave Horn. Up on the walls
was a poster—of the track at Hialeah in Miami, a framed
photograph of Thelonius Monk, a print of the generic
Impressionist landscape type.
There were a few books—4. The titles were were: A
Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins, A golf book--
Groove Your Swing My Way, by Sammy Snead, The
Collected Jokes of Henny Youngman, Word Power—How
to Win Every Sales Pitch
I read the Harold Robbins book. It was an early work- -
the book they write when they still think of themselves
as artists—before they hit the big time. Then they hit
the big time. They write blockbuster novels and sell the
movie rights and the money starts rolling in. The artist
concept begins to fade. They aren’t artists--they are
businessmen. And they are right. I learned this later. It
is always better to be making money
The only item occurring in the room that might be called
thematic was the stereo system--in those days known
as hi-fi—and a vast record collection. He had a passion
for music--the great swing bands of the 30’s and 40’s
and the vocalists who derived from that era—Sinatra,
Mel Torme (the Velvet Fog) Joe Williams and a guy
named Johnny Hartman who became a big
favorite of mine when I moved to New York. Johnny
Hartman made one of the great—and great under-
listened to--records of that time—a collaboration with
John Coltrane. This was the record I used to seduce my
I visited him from time to time to listen to music and
talk about this and that—music, golf, women—the big
He said: whats happening? you getting laid?
I said: no. It was painful. I was jerking off and
visiting hookers--with the money I got from my mother.
My father visited hookers. It all comes from the parents.
Teddy said: you will get laid. Dont worry about it. These
things go in cycles. You go through these dry spells
when nothing is happening and then suddenly you are in
this other mode when you have more action than you
can handle. Its a deluge.
This was something I couldnt imagine--a deluge of pussy.
He said: the way to get laid is to always have a
girlfriend. I mean this: having a girlfriend gives you
confidence and having confidence--besides doing
wonders for your golf game--is what gets you laid. Also:
the pressure is off. You are getting laid from the
girlfriend. There is no pressure to get laid by some other
woman. If it happens—fine. If it doesnt you still have
the girlfriend. Do you follow me?
Teddy and women. He had his ups and downs. He had
been married twice. His first wife was a yenta and the
second was a hooker. You can marry and divorce for the
first time and it is no reflection on your judgement or
the caliber of your instincts because anyone can make a
mistake. The point of a mistake is to learn something
from it. Then you marry and divorce for the second
time. You have repeated the mistake. You have learned
nothing. Now you must ask yourself a question: are you
a loser? That was Teddy--a two time loser.
Later he made it three. His first wife was a yenta, the
second was a hooker and the third was Willie--a
Jamaican. They were all different but the result was the
same. He had a girlfriend at this time--Jody. Jody was
hot. She was a fox. She had a terrific ass. Give me a
good ass. I beat my meat many times thinking about
Jody was Jewish. There are many jokes about Jewish
women. Here is one: Man goes to see the Rabbi and
says: I think my wife is dead.
Rabbi: why do you say that?
Man: well—the sex is the same—but the dishes are
starting to pile up.
That wasnt Jody--the girl in the Jewish joke. Jody liked
to fuck. The girl in the jewish joke was Ellen. Ellen never
met Teddy. She met me—in New York. We were in my
apt, screwing, with her on top, and she looked down at
me and said, I don’t think were compatible.
I said: do you mind if I finish coming?
We listened to the Lenny Bruce album. That was his
other passion—-comedy. He had every comedy album
known to man, by the likes of Redd Fox, Jackie Vernon,
Shecky Greene, etc, the Vegas lounge act types. And
that was Teddy—the Vegas lounge type. He was a funny
guy—-hilarious. He missed his calling. In Buffalo he
worked for a radio station selling air time. He
would have been perfect for the lounge or in the main
room, opening for a star of greater magnitude. Later,
following retirement, he could have joined the Friars
club in LA , sitting around with people like Shecky
Greene and Alan King, etc and playing gin rummy and
exchanging telephone numbers of hookers.
And this is why he liked me--because I laughed at the
jokes. It is impossible not to like the person who laughs
at the jokes. (That is how you know the marriage is
finished--when they stop laughing at the jokes.)
It was at Teddys apt that I listened to these people,
including a Mel Brooks album called The 2000-Year-Old-
Man that made me nuts. I listened to this album so
many times I could repeat it word for word. I can recite
from memory to this day large chunks of this album. I
was in my imitative phase. I imitated writers and did
take offs on comedy albums by the likes of Lenny Bruce
and Mel Brooks.
Lenny Bruce wasn’t Mel Brooks—or Henny Youngman.
He was a Jew and a comedian but you were a long way
here from the stage of Grossingers Hotel in the Borscht
Belt cracking up all the 7th Ave types and their yenta
It was junkie humor. He wasn’t a junkie—not yet. that
occurred later. But the junk virus was present, in
residence and if your choice of profession is doing
standup the material will be skewed in a particular way—
in a junkie way—perverse, nihilistic, scatalogical. It
doesn’t lend itself to a wholesome or re-assuring point of
Also he was a mimic—a brilliant mimic. Its my
contention the great comedians must have that gift, to
slip perfectly into another voice not their own—very far
from their own. They are actors.
We listened to the album—The Sick Humor of Lenny
Bruce. It was funny—very. I connected at once. That’s
why I liked Teddy—he was the first guy in Buffalo to dig
Some years later I was visiting Jack D’Amico in
Berkeley. I was living in LA and went up to see jack
from time to time. Bruce was playing at a jazz club in
North Beach, Basin St West, and we decided to catch the
He was well known by this time and having some well
publicized problems with the law. The act was getting
busted. the issue was obscenity—a few inadvisable
“motherfuckers” here and there and quaint references to
priests buggering altar boys. Today its quite tame. A few
years later Richard Pryor could walk out on stage and do
a 20 minute routine on eating pussy and no one would
bat an eye.
But it was a period of rigid censorship and Bruce was an
easy target—-a jewish comedian with the junkie virus .
And now he did a dumb thing. The act was getting
busted and it was frustrating--the emasuclation of his
art, etc--and he decided to vent his frustrations, to defy
his common sense, what little he had, not too much—-
but a very hard head, brilliant combination--and he filed
Of the many ways to go broke the all time best way is to
produce a movie. In second place is visiting Las Vegas a
la Mario Puzo and third is to involve yourself in multiple
lawsuits with the federal govt on the other side.
Two years later he was dead. The law suits sucked him
dry, the junk virus lying dormant sprung to vivid life and
they found him one morning curled up in his underwear
on the bathroom floor of a hotel in North Beach with the
needle still in his arm
Meanwhile the act had changed. He had abandoned the
satirical bits-—on religion, racism, politics, culture--that
had launched his career. He was doing a semantics
bit-— a philosophical bit—-an inquiry into the nature of
language, the meaning of obscenity—-if there is one—
and if there is one is this a subject designed to engage
the attention of people who have paid a $20 cover and
two drink minimum.
4 miles away on the other side of the Bay Bridge was UC
Berkeley where lectures in philosophy-—gratis--were
occuring on a 24 hour basis—or you could give one of
But--he was Lenny Bruce. The gift hadnt deserted him.
He was still funny. His timing and masterful skills as a
mimic were intact.
Jack and I were driving back.
I said: hes become a jailhouse lawyer type. Its a crusade
Jack said: I enjoyed the show. He is still funny. But you
are right. Hes lost his way. Hes become his own worst
enemy in this one. His instincts have failed him.
Shakespeare said it: leave the music to the musicians.
Time passed . I moved to New York. I got a job writing
copy for an ad agency that specialized in industrial
products—abrasives: sandpaper, files, grinding pastes.
It was a long was from Harold Robbins selling the movie
rights to his novels and banging starlets on his yacht.
But-—New York. It was like Bob Battaglia said: if you
cant get laid in New York youre a mental case.
In Buffalo I was wet behind the ears. By the time I
arrived in New York this condition had somewhat
resolved itself. I had a girlfriend, another on standby,
and a few others who came and went on a hit or miss
basis such as the one I met at a party and we left the
party and cabbed it to my apt and fucked each other and
got dressed and went downstairs and I hailed a cab for
her and I never saw her again or knew her name either
because we were both so hammered all night
long introductions never occurred.
My Buffalo friends went their separate ways. Jack
D'Amico was teaching at Berkeley. Carl was married
with two kids and a third on the way. Morty was in jail.
Teddy had left town. I heard about this from my dad. I
don’t know the details. He owed money—not to the
bank. This was a problem—not a new problem—that
would always be with him—-owing money.
An obsession is something that makes it impossible for
you to think of anything else. That is the definition of the
word. In other words, you cant have two obsessions.
Teddy had two obsessions: golf and the track. It’s a
tossup if he was more obsessed by the golf or the track
or vice versa. He was obsessed equally by both. The
difference is—you can win playing golf.
He moved to California—Los Angeles. He had a brother
there. He married for the third time—to Willie—the
I knew Willie. She lived in Toronto and met al while
visiting a girlfriend in Buffalo who was banging Dave
Willie was great—a wonderful girl. She had her hands
full with Teddy.
He got married and farted around in LA, doing
newspaper sales. They adopted two kids. People like
Teddy should never have children. Why? Because they
are children. I wont labor this one. My father was the
worlds most self-absorbed human being and in second
place was Teddy Shavers. There was something else:
the age factor. I leave it for you to figure out for
yourself if it is wise for a 50 year old man—of normal
habits, not Teddy Shavers—to adopt two small children
whose teenage years will coincide with his 65th birthday.
They moved to Las Vegas. Willie had been offered a
good job and they made the decision to relocate.
But in Vegas something happened. He got lucky. He got
a job doing public relations for the Sahara hotel. It was
a good job for him—perfect. He was a great guy--bright
and funny. He liked people—and vice versa. He was a
Jew. Being a Jew can hurt you in some places but Vegas
isnt one of them. There was something else. Teddy was
stage struck. Happiness for him was chumming around
with some show biz celeb and the magnitude of this
persons fame was not too important. I will give you one
example: Julius LaRosa. That is the name that first
comes to mind. Julius La Rosa was a nice Italian boy
with the worlds least offensive voice--a Perry Como
type. He was a Perry Coma type. He achieved stardom--
or semi-stardom on the old Arthur Godfrey TV show--a
50’s variety type format. The show eventually cancelled
and La Rosa banged around here and there on the
nightclub and dinner theatre circuit before accepting the
inevitable: Vegas. Vegas gets them all in the end. it
could be worse. You have the weather, the golf, the
hookers—and the stage struck types like Alan to provide
company and a supportive boost to the morale when
That was his job at the Sahara--to cater to these
people--the “talent” and tend to their comforts and
arrange whatever diversions were required during the
A frequent diversion was golf. The hotel had its own
course, a championship layout. So there he was playing
golf with the likes of Julius La Rosa--for free--on a
He had died and gone to heaven.
That would be a good place to end this story--with
Teddy in Heaven--and not where it did end--in a creepy
ward in a VA hospital in Salt Lake City dying of heart
failure compounded by diabetes, divorced by his wife
and none too fondly remembered by his children. I could
end it either place. But I will end it in another place--the
last time I saw him.
I was living in Los Angeles. It was 1986. I was 48. Teddy
was 63. He was living alone. He and Willie were
separated--or divorced. He saw his kids from time to
time but, as I say, this relationship was never great--
esp the boy who had problems right from the start. It
was the usual--no male role model.
But there I was in Vegas with a friend. I rang him up
and over we went. I said to my friend: prepare to meet
a strange human being.
The apt was a few blocks off the strip in a complex—
wings of units grouped around a garden—with a pool,
tennis, game room, etc the usual—pleasant.
Inside it was the same apt he had on Sheridan drive.
The difference was—an improved stereo system and
another 200 records added to the collection and up on
the walls row upon row of Teddy pictures--Teddy with
Shecky Green attending a show in the main room,
Teddy with a girl from the Sahara line, Teddy with more
girls from the line, Teddy with the three Jackies:
jackie Vernon, Jackie Gayle, Jackie Leonard. Here was
Teddy playing golf with Sinatra.
I said: you and Sinatra?
He said: it happened in this way. I was with Buddy
Greco. Remember Buddy Greco?
I remembered. Buddy Greco was the poor mans
Sinatra. There we were in Buffalo waiting for Sinatra
by some miracle to book himself in for a date at the
Town Casino—the big room in Buffalo. The miracle
never occurred. Instead we got Buddy Greco.
Teddy said: I am with Buddy Greco and Sinatra was
playing in front of us. I asked Buddy to ask Frank
if he would pose for a shot. He was very nice about
Did you talk to him?
You don’t talk to Frank. He talks to you. He had three
guys with him that looked like they moved safes for a
What about the golf? Can he play?
Can you sing?
My Sinatra days were behind me. He was pushing 70.
The voice was gone and he hadnt punched a
photographer in years.
My other question was: What about Willie and the kids.
Where were these pictures?
He looked good--for an old man. A little of the
enthusiasm had dimmed but he had so much to begin
with there was still plenty in reserve.
Some things had changed--the divorce and also the job
at the Sahara--no longer. A change in management had
occurred and there was a purge of the old timers. Vegas
is a small town—very small when it comes to cushy PR
jobs with a major hotel on the Strip. He caught on at a
place called Sams, across town, that catered to the
family trade--as opposed to the sporting trade- -and
featured a western motif--the buckboard /horsecollar
/banjo-picking look--very cornball—and no golf course.
We sat around and rapped. With Teddy--as with my
father—there was only one subject--the subject of
thyself. Nothing had changed in this dept. He was in a
world of his own. He was always in a world of his own.
But that world was getting smaller.
It was back to the good old days at the Sahara when he
was living it up and friends came to visit--from buffalo or
LA and everything was “comped”--complementary, on
the house, free.
We talked about golf. I hadnt played in years. It was too
time consuming. I didnt miss it. I played enough as a
kid to last the rest of my life.
He had seen Dave Horn—out on a junket for some
musicians labor union convention. Dave had aged—all
those late nights drinking and smoking—and banging
chippies—until 5AM had taken a toll. There were health
problems—a bad knee that was making him nuts. He
couldn’t play golf. He was thinking of a knee operation.
They take out the old and put in the new. I had a friend
in LA who had this operation—and said there would
never be another. The operation is followed by six
months of therapy—and my friend was 43—not 63.
He said: every time I went in for these physical therapy
sessions I had to drink 3 martinis.
Dave was still married—a grandfather. The pussy gene
was in remission. No golf and no pussy. Tough.
Teddyl said: I wanna show you something.
I had noticed this thing—a device bolted to the wall.
What kind of device? Two giant leather pads resembling
catchers mitts driven via some sort of crank operated
levering or cam mechanism.
Teddy said: its for golf—a training aid. I got it thru a golf
It was a device designed to prevent head movement—
very important. This was something the golf magazines
were always hammering you with--head movement. It
was the first commandment of golf: thou shalt not move
You spread the mitts and inserted your head which was
locked into place via a few turns of the crank and you
were in business—with a vengeance. Your head was
welded to the wall. An earthquake could occur and the
entire house collapse and you would still be standing
there with your head fastened between the pads of this
He demonstrated. In went the head, between the pads,
the pads levered tight and he takes a swing. His head
didnt budge--not a centimeter. Now his feet were all
over the place.
When I stopped laughing I said: you look like a retard.
And this is where I will leave him--not as good as the
Sahara-playing golf for free with Julius La Rosa--but
good enough--with his head installed between the
leather pads of the golf training device, at age 63, still
trying to shave a few strokes off the handicap.